UI administrations backed 21-only in the past

BY MORGAN OLSEN | MARCH 23, 2010 7:30 AM

Laura Willis/The Daily Iowan
City Councilor Connie Champion listens during a City Council meeting on Monday in City Hall.
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Though University of Iowa officials have supported a 21-ordinance before, some say President Sally Mason’s administration is taking the strongest stance.

Mason, who has said she regrets not supporting 21-only bars in 2007, is now backing the proposal along with other senior officials and the UI Faculty Council.

At least two former UI presidents have backed the idea before the Iowa City City Council since 2000.

In 2001, Mary Sue Coleman asked councilors to pass the ordinance. Two years later, David Skorton also advocated for the 21-ordinance before the council enacted the current 19-ordinance. Both Coleman and Skorton declined to be interviewed for this story.

“I don’t know what changed this year, but it’s very helpful that the university is coming out in favor of the ordinance,” said City Councilor Mike Wright.

Officials say the stronger support this year is a product of a higher rate of binge drinking and related dangerous behavior.

Former UI President Willard “Sandy” Boyd said binge drinking is a new concept to him and something he thinks the UI has a responsibility to try to deter.

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Boyd, who was president from 1969 to 1981 and served interim in the position from 2002 to 2003, never petitioned for an official city policy. But during his presidency, UI officials tried unsuccessfully to curb drinking by encouraging late-night activities at several places, including the Field House.

“It’s not the first step,” Boyd said about this year’s push by UI officials for a 21-ordinance. “It’s the last step. We’ve tried everything.”

Former UI Provost Peter Nathan, a national expert on alcoholism who served briefly as the UI’s president in 1995, began his research on high-risk drinking in 1997, when he found the UI had one of the worst binge-drinking rates in the nation.

“I used to see it as a normal problem that all Big Ten college campuses face,” he said. “But the University of Iowa has a bigger drinking problem than anyone has any idea of.”

Nathan, who supports the current proposal, dealt with numerous alcohol-related issues during his tenure, including the death of a student after a night of drinking. After the 1995 incident, Nathan called for campus attention on dangerous drinking.

Other past administrators acknowledge drinking as a problem, but they don’t see a solution in the 21-ordinance.

When Gary Fethke served as interim president from 2006-2007, he was never confronted with the ordinance, but he said the decision would be hard for a UI administration.

On a personal level, he said, it makes little sense to take bar privileges away from 19-year-olds — who can legally vote and join the armed forces.

“I guess I would prefer students ‘enjoying’ themselves downtown than attending unsupervised keg parties and similar social events off campus,” Fethke wrote in an e-mail.

Jeffrey Cox, who served as UI Faculty Council president from 2002-2003, has seen the ordinance — and drinking issues at the UI — filter through the administrative decision-making process.

While Cox said he doesn’t know what changed this year, he said he’s glad to see Mason speaking out in support of the 21-only law.

“It’s incredibly hypocritical of both the city and the university to invite first-year students to break the law with a de facto 19-year-old drinking age and then send out armies of police officers to arrest them,” he wrote in an e-mail.

The current bar admittance age puts students at higher risk of racking up criminal records and hurts their chances for scholarships, further education, and even future careers, he said.

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